The Fight Between Free Enterprise and Big Government is a Cultural One

Arthur C. Brooks on the Battle Between Free Enterprise and Big Government
Arthur C. Brooks on the Battle Between Free Enterprise and Big Government

America faces a new culture war; a war between free enterprise and big government. American Enterprise Institute President Arthur C. Brooks argues in his new...


The culture war of the early 21st century is one ultimately of different economic worldviews. One believes that free enterprise is the best solution to many of life's problems, in spite of its flaws. The other opposes that system, and believes in one that requires more government control over our lives in order to produce more "fair" outcomes. How can free enterprise advocates win this war?

This is the question that Arthur Brooks sets out to answer, and in an interview with Reason Magazine's Nick Gillespie, he discussed how he has gone about fighting this culture war. One of the most important things to consider is that we are a "70/30 nation."

The 70/30 nation is all about the contours and public opinion between the people who like the free enterprise system culturally and the people who reject the free enterprise system culturally. So one of the things that you find is that most Americans don't see free enterprise as just an economic matter, they see it as kind of a lifestyle issue, they see it as the bedrock of American culture and that's about 70 percent of the population.

In spite of how divided our nation has been over the past decade, and the past couple of years in particular, most Americans will agree that people acting freely and voluntarily in the marketplace is the most viable solution to our biggest problems. This is the system that our Founders intended to create.

[The free enterprise system is] the manifestation of the freedoms that our founders talked about. So our founders talked about making the freest nation in the world, and you have to express that in some way, and the way that we express that in our work-a-day world is a system, that you know, limits government, that uses free markets to allocate rewards and consequences of behavior, and one that's not overly concerned with with income redistribution.

Brooks works to oppose the European social democracy kind of vision, with high levels of income redistribution and a very managed-economy. Instead, he makes the moral case for free enterprise. One of the major opposing forces that he must counter is a youth population that loves talk of fairness because it sounds good. So how can free enterprise advocates make the case in an age when "fairness" is all the rage?

The people on the political right, or the libertarians, the free-marketeers, you and me, we get stuck talking about economic efficiency. So you know they'll say, "well we want a fair system," and we'll say "but don't you understand that'll cut a quarter percentage point off long term economic growth rates." And everybody just yawns because these guys aren't even paying taxes yet. We need to be making the moral argument and that means actually stopping losing the arguments about this basic concept of fairness.

The fight that he wants to have is the one over the difference between equality of outcome and equality of opportunity. The real battle must be to repudiate the ideas about income inequality and redistribution, and to make the case for a system that empowers people to lift themselves out of poverty by their own work.